Benefits of tough early-season schedule beginto show for Minnesota

by Rowena Vergara

No matter how you look at it, a 4-9 record isn’t pretty.

And no matter how it’s justified, if nothing else, a 4-9 record is nothing to brag about. Some would even view it as relative futility.

But Minnesota’s men’s tennis team sees its rather ghastly record in a remarkably positive light.

“We played a really tough nonconference schedule,” sophomore Mikey Kantar said. “Our 4-9 record is better than Michigan’s 11-7, because we’ve played tougher teams.”

That kind of maxim was validated during the weekend when the Gophers swept both the Wolverines (11-7, 4-1 Big Ten) and Michigan State (11-8, 3-2) by convincing scores of 5-2 and 6-1, respectively.

So although Minnesota’s overall record might be ugly, the team’s conference record is a promising 3-1.

“Teams in the Big Ten are younger than the more experienced teams we played in nonconference,” senior Avery Ticer said. “We would have been happy to be just .500 with our nonconference schedule.”

Instead, the Gophers struggled in dual after dual this spring.

But it’s hard to blame the team for having more losses than wins because of its veritable murderer’s row of a schedule.

Minnesota opened the season at No. 3 Virginia and then fell to No. 13 Washington before pulling an upset of No. 21 Tulane.

When you throw in the fact that a whopping seven of the Gophers’ opponents have been ranked in the nation’s top 35, Minnesota’s 4-9 record doesn’t sound so bad after all.

In fact, Ticer said the tough competition the team had in its nonconference schedule has helped it far more than beating up on lesser teams.

“Teams we’re playing now aren’t quite as high-level as our nonconference opponents were,” Ticer said. “We lost those matches, but they’re definitely helping us now.”

Another thing helping the Gophers rise to the top of the Big Ten under interim coach David Wheaton is the presence of its full squad.

The return of Andres Osorio and D.J. Geatz from suspension has bolstered the team, and Ticer said Minnesota definitely missed its No. 2 doubles tandem and usual Nos. 3 and 5 singles players when they were out.

“I think having our whole squad is helping us a lot,” Ticer said. “D.J. and Andres are two guys that can play almost anywhere in the lineup, and the younger guys are getting match-tough.”

With three matches – including Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Northwestern – on the team’s slate this weekend, Wheaton said he has high expectations for his Minnesota squad.

“Our goal is to win the Big Ten title,” Wheaton said. “If we impose ourselves on the other teams out there, there’s no reason for not doing very well the rest of the season.”